Sean McAllister: Japan: A Story of Love and Hate

The British filmmaker Sean McAllister took part in the East European Platform event in Prague organised by IDF (Institute of Documentary Film). He ran a masterclass, where he showed clips from his many films shot in troubled areas (Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Yemen, where his last film ”The Reluctant Revolutionary” was shot, it had its premiere at the Berlinale 2012). For a night screening McAllister had chosen to show his 2008 work from Japan, ”Japan: A Story of Love and Hate”, a film shot in a non-war-non-conflict area, and a film that he appreciated a lot himself.

As did I, for good reasons, as the film is an excellent conveyed story from a Japan that we know so little about, a film that simply takes us to meet Japanese people, who are open-minded when it comes to their private life, and a film that shows McAllister’s unique talent for getting close to people, have their trust and treat them with respect. The director is involved, his voice is heard, he arranges and pushes the story, and he sets an atmosphere of serious fun. It is a film made with and not about.

It works thanks to Naoki, his 56 year old English speaking protagonist, divorced several times, once a businessman on top of the world and now a postman with a tiny salary. His luck is that Yoshie, 29, takes care of him, she has several jobs including a night one, where she leaves home to entertain men at bars. They live in a very small flat and this is where most of the film takes place. Where most of the conversations between McAllister and Naoki take place as well, and they are pretty intimate. Naoki has a kind of fatalistic approach to his situation, laughs at it and defines it to be all because of capitalism pointing at the director with a laugh – ”that you Westerners brought to us”.

I have never seen a film like that from Japan, about poverty and family trouble and love life crisis. You are never bored, on the contrary, you are in the film from start to end, and – gosh – I have never seen a filmmaker bring a viagra pill as a gift to a character, as does McAllister does on his second vsit to the father of Yoshie, who has the same age and problem as Naoki, who with this visit, after several years of being with his daughter, sees her father for the first time.

UK, Channel4, 2008, 70 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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